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Warning: The content of this post might trigger unpleasant memories for anyone who has experienced sexual assault.

Last summer in Steubenville, Ohio, two 16-year-old high school football players allegedly raped a teenage girl at a party. The two young men have been charged, and the case made national headlines after the New York Times published a detailed article in December about what happened and after the activist hacker group Anonymous posted a video of teenagers making jokes about the alleged rape.

There have been many passionate, important articles and opinion pieces written in response to this horrific incident. Over the weekend, more than 800 people held a peaceful protest calling for justice for the survivor.

What I want to add — since the alleged assailants, the bystanders, the survivor, and the young men cracking jokes about rape were all high school students — is that this should be a wake-up call to school officials and communities to address sexual harassment and sexual assault in their schools!

Crossing the Line coverIn 2011, I co-authored Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, AAUW’s national study of students in grades 7–12 that showed that sexual harassment is still a widespread problem. Nearly 60 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys said they had experienced sexual harassment during the previous year. One-third of girls and one-fourth of boys said they had witnessed sexual harassment.

Physical harassment was not uncommon either. During the school year studied, 4 percent of girls and 0.2 percent of boys reported having been forced to do something sexual, and 13 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys had been touched in an unwelcome sexual way.

Many students saw these experiences as “no big deal,” and sexual harassment was understood as “part of school life.” Only 9 percent of the harassed students felt comfortable reporting their experiences to anyone at school.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of the students who harass and assault at school also do so outside of school, including at parties like the one the alleged Steubenville rapists attended, because sexual abuse is normalized in our society and perpetrators rarely see anyone punished for their actions.

It’s also not a stretch to say that schools should do more to address sexual harassment.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools must inform students that sex discrimination — including sexual harassment — is prohibited, publicize a grievance policy, and have a trained Title IX coordinator available so students can easily report incidents.

After AAUW’s 2011 report was released, I gave numerous talks across the country. Many AAUW branches that invited me to speak tried to set up meetings with Title IX coordinators. But in location after location, they could not find a single Title IX coordinator, even in large cities with many school districts. In speaking with people who regularly work on Title IX issues, I learned that this scarcity is pretty common.

I spoke at several bullying conferences and events. I received mostly blank stares when I asked people — including teachers and school administrators — if they knew what Title IX was or if they knew the names of their Title IX coordinators. At each of these conferences, I was the only person who talked about sexual harassment.

It was worse when I worked with AAUW’s Campus Action Project (CAP) teams. Each year, AAUW grants up to $5,000 to fund grassroots projects that use the recommendations from AAUW’s latest research report. In 2011–12, seven CAP teams focused on the Crossing the Line recommendations. I was appalled when most of the teams faced roadblocks as they tried to carry out their very noncontroversial projects. The following is just one example.

When one team asked to have access to a few high school students to conduct a focus group and then work with them to create an informational poster campaign, the school at first agreed. Then, when it came time to set up the focus groups, the school cancelled, saying in an e-mail that the focus group was too “controversial in nature” and that the discussion of the students’ experiences might obligate the school to report or investigate the incident “as required by law.”

When school administrators have this kind of attitude and it is combined with a culture that trivializes sexual harassment and assault, is it any wonder that sexual harassment and assault are rampant in most schools? Is it any surprise that perpetrators at school may very well become perpetrators outside of school?

It is time for school administrators, teachers, parents, and community members to finally acknowledge that sexual harassment and sexual assault happen in our schools. It’s time to talk to students about it, follow Title IX guidance, and make preventing harassment and assault a priority!

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Jane Sutton has been the science chair at the AAUW Circleville (OH) Branch since she launched the first countywide science fair in 1985. The event still takes place today — run by the county schools — and the branch continues to donate a prize to the winning high school student. In the 1990s, Sutton led her branch to become involved in National Chemistry Week. The branch sent volunteers to all 13 schools in the county to offer hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs and demonstrations and to hand out memorabilia to the students.

“Our branch has been involved in science projects in the county since the 1980s, and it has evolved,” says Sutton. For the past four years, the branch has donated funds to local high schools to help them fill voids in their science labs. For the 2011–2012 school year, Teays Valley High School asked for a donation of books to augment their science library, and Logan Elm High School received rechargeable batteries and a charger.

So why science labs? Both Sutton and past branch President Jayme Hartley Fountain believe that STEM education can open doors for students in their community.

“There’s a lot of teachers and retired teachers in our particular branch,” says Fountain. “I have a chemistry degree, and I went to law school with my science degree. If you look at those degrees, it’s good for their future … and we firmly believe, for girls struggling in STEM, that it is important for us to help.”

“In our town, as in all communities, there’s a special need for science activities and math,” says Sutton. “DuPont and PPG Industries, who sponsored us before the economy turned south, are big in the local economy, and it seems like it was important for [children] to see what was going on in the large plants.”

DuPont and Four J Properties, the two organizations that partnered with the Circleville Branch to make the donations, have been very involved in community activities, and they play a large part in the town’s economy.

In school districts that continue to see funding cuts, investing in updated technology and science labs can be a struggle. “We just thought that they would need it most because often chemistry, physics, and biology require more money for projects, experiments, and books,” says Sutton.

For years, the branch also has helped sponsor two girls from local middle schools to go to the Be WISE Camp, a STEM camp for girls at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Sutton anticipates that there will be a new branch project to encourage STEM in her community this year. “There’s always a need for it, and I don’t know what direction it will go in the future, but the high schools that have accepted our offers have been very grateful,” she says.

To follow what AAUW is doing with STEM, “like” us on Facebook or follow us, @AAUWSTEM, on Twitter. And please let us know what your branch is doing to break through barriers for women and girls in STEM.

This post was written by AAUW Marketing and Communications Intern Marie Lindberg.

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At this year’s AAUW National Convention, I heard members in the hallways mentioning two themes over and over again: the joys of reuniting after two years apart and the exciting — and befuddling — potential of the oft-emphasized social media. In browsing AAUW’s lists on Twitter, I’ve been struck by not only how active AAUW members are in the social media sphere but also how drastically those tiny tweets can affect our connectedness in the time between conventions.

Just a sampling of recent tweets shows that we’re active all over the country:

On one day alone, we got inspirational quotations from AAUW of Pennsylvania, news dispatches from AAUW of Arkansas, updates on the state legislature and new leadership development opportunities from AAUW of Ohio, and invitations to a Cocktails and Convos happy hour from the AAUW Fayetteville (AR) Branch (yum!).

None of us can read 50 newspapers in a day or stay abreast of all legislative issues at the state and federal levels, but we’re certainly capable of reading tweets from 50 states. Twitter allows AAUW state offices, branches, and individual members to communicate on a much wider spectrum with much greater speed than ever before. Need proof? Just take another look at AAUW’s Spring 2010 edition of Outlook, in which AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz recounts the day she tweeted about an issue and then received a phone call from a congressional staffer complaining that too many people were calling his office. That’s lobbying in action, and that’s because of an active AAUW community online.

In just the few tweets above, I get a feeling for the good vibes being spread throughout Pennsylvania; the latest out of Arkansas; the disastrous legislation in Ohio; and, on the lighter side, the benefits of meeting up with old and new acquaintances to talk face-to-face. Why wait two years before the next convention to catch up when every two hours there’s a whole new set of updates right on Twitter? Keep the enthusiastic momentum alive in the virtual world, and keep us posted through social media.

And remember, if you need help setting up or utilizing social media for your branch or state, you can get in touch with the AAUW Social Media Task Force.

This post was written by AAUW Communications Intern Laura Webb.

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